Larkhall Thistle 2 St Roch’s 1 – 13th May 2017

Gasworks Park, Larkhall
Larkhall Thistle v St Roch’s
Central League First Division

 

 

Thistle manager Dunky Sinclair went into the biggest game of his time at the Jags with three changes from the win at Lesmahagow. Scott Nicholl was suspended and his driving runs to the 18 yard line and diagonal passes would be a miss after a good game last week. Brian Jack dropped to the bench with Mark McKeever and back came Andy Brown, Hugh Kelly and Gary McStay.

 

A bit of early rain wasn’t enough to put the game in any doubt and the conditions added to what was already going to be a powdrekeg fixture. The rivalry between the teams goes way back in time and with both on 51 points, the winner was assured of promotion to the Super League.

 

The Thistle committee had worked with the police to ensure that the game went off without a hitch and did a great job in organising and segregating the two sets of supporters and the game was played in a safe if somewhat hostile atmosphere, although the noise from both sides made it more of an occasion.

 

The teams have been well matched all season with both having great spells and mini-slumps and it’s often said than on occasions like this it comes down to who wants it most and handles the occasion the best. In the first half that was without question Thistle.

 

The Jags came roaring out of the blocks and tore at the St Roch’s goal from the off. The pressure paid off after just nine minutes when Larkhall took the lead with what was in the circumstances, probably the goal of the season.

 

 

Larkhall won a free kick on the half way line and Canning swept the ball wide to the right edge of the box, Josh Payne knocked a first-time ball back across the area and Graham Gracie took over. He flicked the ball up with his left foot then right foot past the last defender before volleying it in with his left, a truly brilliant effort.

 

The goal settled Thistle and they had a great chance to go further ahead eight minutes later with a fine team move, Kelly played the ball out to Gracie wide on the left and he took it down the wing before delivering a perfect ball into the six yard area for McStay to slide in and connect with, unfortunately the St Roch’s keeper Stark made a great save to deny what looked like a certain goal.

 


Thistle continued to dominate the first half with Kelly and Ryan Innes winning the battles in midfield and Gracie giving the St Roch’s defence all sorts of problems up front. The visitors only had one significant effort on goal in the first half, a shot from just outside the box that Thomson got down well to block.

 

Half time and Thistle well in control although with just a slender advantage.

 

Half Time: Larkhall Thistle 1 St Roch’s 0

 

The second half started well for Thistle and they went 2-0 up within two minutes of the restart.

 

Liam Mushett broke up a St Roch’s attack and launched the ball up the park and the second ball was picked up by Kelly. He played it forward towards Gracie and the St Roch’s defender made a calamatous attempt at heading it away, totally misjudging the flight of the ball. It broke to Gracie and he swept it to the right into the path of the overlapping Canning who took one touch and slotted it low into the corner.

 

 

With the second goal, St Roch’s realised it was now all or nothing and they had to go for it. To their credit that is exactly what the did, they fought with everything they had for the remainder of the game to try and get the draw that they needed. Spurred on by their combative number 8 Daw who sailed close to the wind on several occasions but managed to escape without the referee taking action. He also took the constant barracking from the home fans in good part, smiling and waving five fingers for some reason.

 

Apart from letting off the Daw, the referee was more than lenient towards the visiting keeper who could have seen a straight red for what was an assault on Gracie, but he capped even that with a penalty award for St Roch’s after 57 minutes. The striker was heading away from goal and posed no threat at all, Thomson in fairness didn’t need to lunge in but there didn’t seem to be much contact and the striker took a couple of steps before deciding to go down and try his luck.

 

 

The penalty was converted by Daw and sparked a good spell for the visitors.

 

The pressure was now all towards Jags keeper Thomson but the defence held firm, Andy Brown and Niall Reynolds coping well and Liam Mushett winning every ball in the middle in the air. The situation got even more nervous for Thistle when they brought on substitute Musa, inexplicably left out as he is their top scorer and looked by far their most dangerous player.

 

Matty Clarke came on in the second half for Gary McStay who wasn’t having any luck up front but Clarke’s main duties were defensive and he did well covering on the left side in particular.

 

For all their pressure, St Roch’s didn’t really create many real chances, the best of them was a great run down the goal line from Musa, Thomson did well to block his dinked shot at the end of it and send it out for a corner. It wasn’t all one way though and Thistle threatened on the break with efforts from David Reid and Gracie.

 

Full time came and Thistle had held out for the win that the home supporters would say they deserved, while the St Roch’s fans would argue they deserved a point. There was nothing much between the sides as there hasn’t been all season but one of them had to lose out.

 

Full Time: Larkhall Thistle 2 St Roch’s 1

 

Scorers: Gracie, Canning

 

Website Man of the Match: No failures today and although Liam Mushett was again fantastic in a great defensive display, Graham Gracie just edges him out with his work rate and brilliant goal.

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S.Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Payne, Innes (Jack 90), Canning, Kelly, Reid (McKeever 86); McStay, (Clarke 45), Gracie. Subs: D.Thomson (GK), Stewart, Rutherford

 

Booked: Innes, Gracie, Thomson, Canning

 

*** Video taking a while to upload, expected about 7pm

 

St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 1 – 25th March 2017

James McGrory Park, Glasgow
St Roch’s v Larkhall Thistle
Central League First Division

 

After a run of four homes games and not having played away since early January, Thistle made the trip to Provanmill for this vital top of the league clash between the second and third placed teams.

 

The Jags had injury worries, Brian Jack had stitches round his eye and both keepers were carrying knocks and were doubtful. Captain Mark Canning was also doubtful due to work commitments but Stewart Thomson started in goal and Canning made it too, with Brian Jack on the bench.

 

A fine day and the lack of any senior games brought out a big crowd for the game with the vast majority supporting the home team, a dream day for the club treasurer with hundreds cramming the home terracing and shed behind the goal.

 

Thistle got off to a bright start moving the ball forward well but without anything happening up front, Graham Gracie was through on the keeper but flagged offside then Matty Clarke had a chance to play him in moments later but overplayed it on the left side and lost the opportunity.

 

The playing surface was in poor condition and the ball was constantly taking strange bobbles making it hard to play a passing game on the deck and the big St Roch’s defence meant high balls into the area weren’t going to come to much either.

 

 

The tone of the game changed after 11 minutes though when a mix up in the Jags defence let Maguire in to score with a shot into the top corner that left Thomson with no chance. They nearly added to the lead ten minutes later when another mix up, this time between Hugh Kelly and David Reid, gifted the ball which was swept out to the left wing and the St Roch’s man did well to create space for a shot that just came off the outside of the post with Thomson stranded.

 

 

Minutes later Niall Reynolds had to clear one that might have been heading in as St Roch’s settled in and controlled rest of the half, forcing Thistle back into defending deep for most of it. The Jags came closest when Gracie chased down what looked like a lost cause and won the ball back for Reid whose shot brought out a low diving save from Stark.

 

 

Half Time: St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 0

 

St Roch’s were out of the blocks early in the second half with a quick turn and shot that went just past the post and it looked like we might be in for more of the same, but Thistle have developed a steely edge in their unbeaten run and they weren’t going to go down without a fight.

 

Liam Mushett was involved going forward as well as in defence and he got his head onto a free kick which was partly cleared by a defender but fell back to him, his follow-up shot was well saved and fell to Clarke but he couldn’t adjust his feet in time to tap it into the empty net.

 

Thistle got their equaliser from the penalty spot ten minutes into the half after a Gracie throw-in had again only been cleared as far as Canning on the edge of the box. His shot hit a defender who was going to ground but left his arm up, the referee deciding there was enough in it for a penalty. Canning took the kick himself and beat Stark to the keeper’s right. Shortly after the goal the skipper was taken off due to what looked like an injury to his ribs he’d picked up earlier in the game and was replaced by Brian Jack.

 

 

It would have been a bold referee who awarded Larkhall a second penalty just five minutes later in front of the 700 fans who might just have thought it wasn’t – Jack hit the post and Gracie seemed to be impeded by two defenders who threw themselves down and bowled him over but in the circumstances anything short of catching the ball with both hands was never going to be given.

 

Going into the last quarter of a pulsating match, St Roch’s pressed again and went close with a free header that just cleared the bar when it should have hit the target at least, then even closer with a ball right across the face of the goal just two yards out that had no takers for an easy tap-in. Thomson was then called into action to get a vital touch on a point-blank shot after a corner had been headed back across the goal.

 

Thistle finished the game with the best chances to sneak a win, Mushett helped the ball on towards goal and Ryan Innes nipped in front of the keeper but sent his header just wide, then a St Roch’s defender mysteriously tried to dribble out from his own goal line and got caught out but the ball trundled across the face of the goal and past. In their last effort, keeper Stark and one of his defenders between them managed to hand the ball to Gracie who tried to lob it back into the empty net but didn’t get enough height on it.

 

This was Thistle – and St Roch’s – biggest league game for many a year. The league positions and crowd made it a real big match occasion and it required big players to step up and perform. The Thistle back three and keeper were outstanding other than the blip for the goal and Hugh Kelly and Canning put everything into midfield, Gracie got through a lot of work and led the line well but the real driving force behind what was a tremendous point was Ryan Innes. A magnificent fighting display in the middle of the park that set the marker that Thistle weren’t going to be intimidated by the occasion and were here to scrap and battle for everything that was going.

 

A word about St Roch’s, they have had their problems with some of their supporters recently but manager Andy Cameron and the committee pulled out all the stops to make this as safe as they could for the travelling Thistle support. In the event it all passed off peacefully and in what has to be said was a great atmosphere, and although there is an intense rivalry between the two clubs it was settled where it should be settled, on the park.

 

Full Time: St Roch’s 1 Larkhall Thistle 1

 

Website man of the match: Ryan Innes

 

Larkhall Thistle:
S. Thomson; Brown, Mushett, Reynolds; Kelly; Payne, Innes, Canning (Jack 56), Reid (Nicholl 78); Clarke (McStay 68), Gracie. Subs: McKeever, Doyle, D. Thomson

Scorers: Canning

Booked: Innes, Mushett, Payne, McStay

 

 

Match Preview – St Roch’s v Thistle

Thistle played St Roch’s in November last year and despite the loss of a player “The Candy” proved to be a very tough nut to crack, the Jags eventually running out 4-2 winners. St Roch’s were on a poor run of form at that point, our win being their sixth game without a win, having lost five of them.

After that game however, things became even worse for them with the loss of players and management having a devastating effect on their fortunes. They have lost all seven league games since, among them going down 7-1 at Lesmahagow and 7-0 at home to Neilston as well as 4-goal losses against Lanark and Benburb – both at home.

Worst of all however was last Saturday when things reached a new low with a 5-1 home defeat to East Kilbride, the visitors’ first and only points of the entire league campaign.

Our own form of late has been a bit hit or miss with excellent wins at the likes of Greenock and Neilston being cancelled out by poor performances at Carluke and Benburb. Despite our opponents toiling at the wrong end of the table nobody will be taking the win as a foregone conclusion and anything gained from the game will have to be hard-won.

There has traditionally been a bit of an edge in games between the teams over the years, going back to the early 70s when they met in the now infamous Scottish Cup ties. St Roch’s see this as a game they would love to win to start their fightback against relegation so despite the current form we can be sure of a hard game against a team that will be fired up and fully committed to getting a much needed win.

Here’s hoping for a good sporting encounter where the football is the only topic of after-match conversation.

Central League Cup draw

Larkhall Thistle have been drawn to play Shettleston at home in the first round of the Euro Engineering Central League Cup. There are 39 teams involved so there are seven games in Round 1, leaving 32 teams in Round 2. The draw for the second round has also been made and the Jags will travel to play St Roch’s if they get through. Dates for the ties have yet to be decided.